January 20, 2009

New Coaches - New Hope?

On the day that Barack Obama ushers in a new legacy of hope to the White House, Irish fans have new reasons to hope that 2009 will be a new and improved year for Charlie and his Football Factory. Two new grad assistants with sparkling resumes will join the Irish sideline: Bryant Young and Tim Grunhard. How can you get better entry level coaches than Bryant Young and Tim Grunhard?? Between them, they share 25 years of professional wisdom to impart and 5 Pro Bowl selections. Young won a Super Bowl with the 49ers, was voted NFC Rookie of the Year in 1994 and NFL Comeback Player of the Year in 1999. Both were highly regarded by their professional peers as terrific teammates, leaving no question that their egos will be checked at the door. Both played in the last heyday of Notre Dame football, Grunhard a starter on the '88 champions, Young a stalwart on the defense that shut down the "national champion" Seminoles in '93. Even though they can't hit the road and recruit, they're impact with name recognition alone just sent tremors through high school programs. A year or two of grooming and they could become mainstays as line coaches on each side of the ball. They're obviously not taking the jobs for the money, but rather want to give back to the school that provided them with terrific opportunities. How these two even became interested and candidates to join the staff is beyond me, but it's a big step in the right direction for Charlie's resolve to fix what's broken.

Lost in the hoopla of the two alums returning to their alma mater is the addition of Tony "Don't Call Me Steve" Alford as the running backs coach, the position vacated by Mike Haywood. I won't pretend to know much about Alford other than what I gleaned from the SBTrib article, but he sounds well-respected in the field. He could very well be one of those diamond in the rough finds who exceeded expectations as a player at a mid-major (Colorado State) and now has built up a coaching resume to get to this point. The most heartening news from his stints at Iowa State and Louisville is the consistent production of 1,000 yards seasons (every year from 1995-2001) while taking care of the ball (13 fumbles in 8 years!). For a good stretch, Iowa State produced randomly great RBs with gaudy numbers. How? Credit must go in large part to Steve, err, Tony Alford for this surprising production from players like Troy Davis, Ennis Haywood, Stevie Hicks and Darren Davis. Let's hope he brings that same magic to South Bend.


kevin said...

First, Grunhard is the freaking man. Longtime Chief, and recently turned around a local high school program with mostly undersized kids.

However, as much as I love the Irish, I hate to inform that I don't think this is quite a done deal. I think he really enjoys the high school scene, and I believe he has like 3 or 4 non-college age kids. A move to South Bend would be quite an ordeal for his family.

My understanding is he's basically coaching high school for the challenge and fun. Remember, he played in the 90's, not the 70's (or even 80's), so he made a ton of money. It's not like ND would be a no-brainer like it would for any other high school coach, where he could use it as a spring board for better paying coordinator or head coaching jobs.

I hope it happens (sorry Bishop Miege Stag fans), but I'd actually bet against it until he signs on the dotted line.

Doug said...

I don't think you can ever go wrong bringing in a guy like Bryant Young to work with our young players. He knows what it takes to be a great d-lineman and what type of work you need to put in during the offseason, in the film room, and in the weight room. If Bryant Young is going to be spending 20 hours a week with our players, that has to be a good thing. I don't know what a grad assistant does, but I get the impression that he would have a little more responsibility than a typical grad assistant.

I could be wrong about this, but I want to say that Ken Norton Jr. had a similar role when he first came to USC. He was there to just be an advisor and a mentor and then eventually became an assistant. That's sort of what I'm envisioning for Bryant Young.

As for Alford, he seems like a great hire to me. I don't know anything about his Iowa St days, but Louisville has had a solid running game since he's been there. Our running backs have significantly underachieved in the last couple years, so I hope Alford can get these guys playing with more fire. We need the RBs to be keep fighting to break tackles and explode through the hole. We had too many times where the running back tiptoed to the line and got brought down by the first tackler.

Haywood had a good reputation as a running backs coach as well, so I don't want to get carried away about Alford just yet. I do think that Weis has brought in more guys who he can listen to for advice and thoughts on the team. It seems like he just hasn't been comfortable with that original staff that he hired, so I'm glad those guys are getting phased out.

Overall, I think Weis is having a very solid offseason. You knew changes were coming, and the moves that have been made look good on paper. Weis has had an opportunity to digest life in college football over the last four years, and it seems like he is starting to figure out the type of staff that he needs to be successful.

The perception of Weis is that he's stubborn and arrogant, but I actually think he's generally been willing to make changes for the better of his team. Some of the moves have worked out (Corwin Brown to replace Minter) and some didn't (giving up playcalling duties to be more of a head coach). It's all part of the learning process for a first time head coach. We probably would have benefited if Weis had been a head coach somewhere else before, but the investment in Weis might end up paying off over time as he gets more experience in how to do this job.

Will it all pay off?? I guess we'll have to find out whether it leads to results on the field, but the moves so far have been pretty encouraging.